Cisco strategy has always been about capturing market transitions - in next generation networks, in the data centre and in the cloud. But hey, the Internet of Everything (IoE)? Isn't that just too much of a marketing mouthful? Not known to be bashful about their abilities, Cisco takes a swing at it.
Cisco is also known for its 'enzymatic' approach to business development - handing off implementation tasks to partners as soon as they have been developed, in order to keep their employee count down and their teams in the technology forefront.
Last week, Cisco invited analysts to attend the fourth Cisco Services Summit meeting in London. Cisco's aim was to unveil important shifts in their long-term company direction - complementing hardware and software solutions with the migration strategies as well as tools and processes to support it. The company recognizes that its customers don't want to buy a box, they want to acquire an SLA defined service level - they want their CPE-as-a-service. This orchestration service is not just aimed at individual companies but rather at whole industry verticals. The keyword (oft repeated by the presenters) is 'connected' where IoE links people, processes, data and physical things.
The Services Summit ran concurrently with Cisco's IoT World Forum event in Barcelona, which went a lot more into the details of IoE. In London Cisco focused on how it was working with its partners and customers. Cisco wanted to reaffirm its ability to think far ahead, and make money doing it! Where others may characterise their product development activities with clients as pre-sales costs taken out of the sales & marketing budget, Cisco frames it as a highly strategic market development exercise where select participants can win market share as first-movers, if they invest in the planning - and pay Cisco for the privilege of participating.
Cisco's efforts are spearheaded by a 400 strong team of experts in the Cisco Consulting Services unit spread out across the whole Cisco organisation. They are not there to give advice; they are there to ensure results by developing and implementing solutions. Typical process steps are: an initial executive exchange (developing what-if thinking), followed by value assessment, strategy and planning, and finishing off with building and managing the complete solution.
Of course not everyone is invited! The focus is on its top-200 'transformational customers' - service providers, public sector and the largest Enterprise customers. They are invited to explore the IoE to create new market and business models. Trials for Connected Solutions were described in four areas:
Connected life sciences: helping life sciences / pharma companies to shift from being drug product providers to delivering a life cycle service i.e. following patients as the progress through a treatment regime.
Connected manufacturing: taking what is today still a very IT centric approach to managing the production process, and developing an open standards platform connecting the manufacturer with the end use of the product.
Connected Transportation: tying transportation requirements of road, rail, dispatch and flight operators together.
Connected Service Providers: involving telcos and content providers in how to build and manage a service defined network (SDN) rather than managing it as a hardware network.
There is clearly a lot for service providers to learn from these projects, and indeed significant new opportunities to be exploited when extending connected projects into other industry verticals. Clearly the challenge facing Cisco itself is changing the customer perception of Cisco as a hardware company, and clearly the opportunity for service providers is to use Cisco's innovation drive to redefine their role in comms service delivery - to shift away from the bit-pipe pit and into higher strata SDN and data processing realms.